Grand Blue – 02 – Underwater Isn’t So Bad

Iori continues to contend with the constant nudity of his male peers, but everyone dresses for dinner, which is when Nanaka observes he’s gone out every day he’s been in Izu, and doesn’t even know where his room is!

Nanaka forcefully forbids him from spending a third night out, but when the boys say they’ll be having drinks with students at a women’s university, Iori begs Nanaka to let him go. She refuses.

Iori doesn’t give up there, an decides he’ll unpack his stuff and set his room up in a way that will convince Nanaka to change her mind. Kotobuki and Tokita volunteer to help, and eventually Imamura is also involved in various ill-conceived makeovers.

They festoon his room in porn, then lolis, then BL, and finally, in order to sway Nanaka most powerfully, slap Chisa’s face on everything. In the last case, Chisa ends up seeing their handiwork before her sister.

It’s a competent example of the “best laid plans” comedy trope, in which Iori keeps trusting his friends, things just keep getting worse, and he just grows more angry and frustrated. His own idea is worse still, suggesting the entire venture was doomed from the start!

Chisa banishes him to an isolated room that also happens to be the meeting room for the diving club; Iori only learns this when he wakes up to find a meeting taking place in the room, and the club ain’t vacating!

Kotobuki and Tokita decide to give the three freshmen—Iori, Imamura, and Chisa—some basic lessons. Chisa is forced to participate despite already being well-versed in said basics.

The swimming lesson goes south when Iori is treated to the sight of way more underwater manhood than with he’s comfortable. The senpais even trick him into totally disrobing just when Chisa emerges from the changing room in her orange bikini.

Iori just can’t seem to prevent Chisa from seeing him in almost exclusively embarrassing and shameful situations!

But when Iori idly says he’s not interested in underwater—something she’s painfully passionate about—Chisa has Nanaka take Iori to the aquarium after-hours.

This visit and the majesty of the underwater to which divers have access doubtlessly inspires Iori, but so does video he sees of an entirely different side of Chisa; one he never sees because he always looks like a jackass around her.

Nanaka is honest about Chisa telling her to take him and why, and the next time Iori sees Chisa, he makes sure to express his gratitude, both by being fully clothed, and by giving her a souvenir. Chisa would’ve preferred a cuter trinket, but she clearly appreciates the gesture.

This was by far the least cringe-worthy interactions between the two childhood friends, and hopefully the start of a trend of more cordial encounters. Still, I also hope the show doesn’t stop mining Iori’s embarrassment/jackassery around Chisa for comedy…it’s still a rich mine!

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Grand Blue – 01 (First Impressions) – Learning to Swim

Kitahara Iori moves back to the seaside town of Izu where he grew up in order to attend university. He’ll be living with his uncle, who runs the Grand Blue Diving Shop. Upon entering, Iori is met with a scene he never thought he’d see: a huge group of naked burly guys playing rock-paper-scissors.

Iori flees the site, but is quickly caught by two of the dudes, and learns they’re juniors at Izu University, making them his senpais. They were playing a game to determine who would fill their scuba tanks; they’re in a diving club and want to recruit Iori, who declines as he can’t swim.

Iori won’t just be living with his uncle, but his two female cousins as well, Nanaka and Chisa, both of whom have grown quite beautiful in the ten years since he’s seen them. There’s a particular aura around Chisa that suggests she’s looking forward to seeing Iori, or at the very least will give him a chance.

Iori blows that chance without even realizing he had one, because just as he walked in to a debaucherous display, so too does she, with him at its center, half-naked, drinking, shouting, and generally acting a damn fool (i.e., a college freshman). His attempt to smooth things over fails specatularly; Chisa’s first impression of him is that anything he touches must be thrown away.

His senpais Shinji and Ryuu demand he party with them that night, assuring him they’ll get him to orientation on-time. They do, but with two caveats: he’s hungover six ways from Sunday, and he’s in nothing but his boxers. That is how the whole of his freshman class meets him.

Iori has been swept up in the waves of college life, and it feels like his seniors are giving him a “swimming” lesson of sorts. The only way to learn is to jump in and start paddling, but Iori’s attempts to do so only invite more scorn, not just from Chisa, but from a hot blonde guy named Imamura Kouhei, who wears a t-shirt declaring his otaku-ism.

He also gets plenty of attention from the cops for continuing to ask people for their clothes. He finally gets a shirt by recruiting Kouhei to the Diving Club, which is called “Peek-a-Boo.”

Iori is inevitably thrown into more situations of cavorting and heavy drinking, and both he and Kouhei prove ill-equipped to resist the temptation to overdo things. To be fair, the peer pressure to drink as much strong liquor as possible is extremely high…though we see that Chisa is able to sip responsibly and stay above the fray.

The morning after their latest college party experience (involving a staring contest in which one person tries to get the other to spray their drink) both Iori and Kouhei arrive at class in their underwear. Clearly more swimming lessons will be needed…but despite Iori’s insistence the Diving Club is not for him….c’maaahn. You know that cat’s joining.

Grand Blue looks great and is a lot of fun, effectively capturing the raw energy and abandon of early adulthood. Those who have attended college know that it isn’t just about studies, but the experience; the change in one’s lifestyle to something more independent than one’s home. It’s about making a new home, and making a new family.

Most importantly, it’s about trying new things (and yes, sometimes failing and/or suffering). But as Yoda said in The Last Jedi: “The greatest teacher, failure is.”

Hinamatsuri – 09 – A Tropical Vacay, a Promotion…and a Funeral

If Hina had simply been sent home via orb, none of the hilarity this week would have transpired. Chalk that up to an “organization” that is way more incompetent than you’d expect of an entity that deals with girls with terrifying telekinetic abilities. You’d think there’d have been some kind of revolt at this point.

Consider Mao: the “shy but capable” courier meant to deliver a new orb to Kei for Hina to use to return home (so that’s not off the table like it is for the officially-dead Anzu). Only Mao is transported to a remote tropical island just north of Indonesia, and both her orb and the spare for Hina are washed away within moments of arriving.

From there, the first act is a one-woman homage to Cast Away starring Ozawa Ari as Mao. She certainly is capable, able to survive just fine for days thanks to her ability (though why’d it take twelve days to make clothes?) Like Tom Hanks, she makes a friend—two friends, Anzu and Hina—out of coconuts. Unlike Tom Hanks, she voices both of them.

Weeks pass, and like Hanks, her hair gets longer and she develops a more stoicly intense look, while her “friends” have grown bodies. But eventually she snaps, tosses the coconuts—which are not her real friends, but just, well coconuts—off a cliff, and does what she should have done weeks ago: builds a raft and sails for the mainland (though ends up in Thailand, not Japan).

With Hina’s departure again indefinitely on hold, we move on to Nitta. He and Sabu have been ordered to pick up Nitta’s former brother Naito “The Slayer” from prison. With the president in a coma prior to naming a successor, an idiotic little power struggle plays out, thanks in equal part to Hina and Sabu.

Nitta manages to convince Naito not to challenge the lieutenant, but when Gramps wakes up and names Nitta his successor (to placate Hina, to whom he’s taken a shine), Sabu has too quick a text trigger. Both the lieutenant and Naito believe Nitta played them to steal the throne. Nitta sets the old man straight and the lieutenant is reinstalled two minutes later, but Sabu never texts this to the still-enraged lieutenant.

Before he knows it, Nitta is encased in an oil drum full of hardened concrete, with the LT and Naito ready to make him swim with the fishes. But Sabu’s chronic nausea is the first sign something is amiss. Nita’s failure to “nut up and go out like a villain” is another.

The president arrives just in time to corroborate Nitta’s defense. Once the LT and Naito realize they jumped the gun (with Sabu continuing to vomit but not own up to causing this) it’s needless to say an awkward situation.

The LT decides to promote Nita to replace him on the spot, and everyone cheers him…but he just wants to be let out of the damn concrete. Where’s Hina when you need her?

Well, she and Nitta are apparently fine now after she walked in on his “one-man party.” We know this because there’s a helpful side note at the bottom of the screen. And that’s fine with me; that shortcut enables us to move on to something funnier: Hina planning a celebration for Nitta’s promotion.

She reaches out to virtually all of her amassed acquaintances, who all have different suggestions. I particularly liked Mika’s suggestion of booze…while drinking booze, stating she’s always celebrating the fact she was born, which is a slick way to excuse her alcoholism! A woman after my heart…

Hina can’t decide which person’s advice to use, so she combines them. However, she isn’t able to procure booze, and spends so much on flowers she can’t afford a cake, and so makes one out of salt. This all results in a very funereal celebration, leading very anticipatory Nitta declaring his home not by saying “I’m Home!” but “I’M…DEAD?! I’M DEAD!”

Inexplicably, Hina seals herself in a coffin-shaped cardboard box and emerges to cheerfully congratulate him. Nitta’s reaction, and Hina’s resulting deflation in mood, are the perfect capper to another solid episode.

Hinamatsuri – 08 – Getting Angry at Balls

When a serious-looking woman with black boots and gloves arrives in town (fully-clothed-Terminator-style) asking Anzu for Hina’s whereabouts, it felt like the beginning of the end for Hina’s stay with Nitta…for about five minutes.

Then we learn that while Ikaruga Kei looks the part of a badass punative field officer, Anzu has to keep her from constantly taking shortcuts in her duties, and she’s terrified of clashing with Hina, who apparently destroyed a city when she lost control one day.

Ikaruga’s duties aren’t even that involved or complicated; as Anzu says, anyone could follow Hina and check off boxes that determine whether she’s still out of control (she isn’t). As for Anzu herself? When she never returned due to her travel orb getting ruined in the wash, she was declared KIA and is now free to live her best life.

Ikaruga ultimately gives up when both the novice and advanced-level questionnaires reveal Hina has changed and grown, but later reads an addendum that stipulates if she gets over a 90% score, it means she can, and should, return “home”, wherever that is; thankfully the show never says. Ikaruga also has a dog, thanks to a failed gambit to get Hina to fail a question about caring for animals.

Meanwhile, Hina continues going to school where she mostly eats and sleeps. However, despite having a broken leg she still has cleaning duty, and a classmate witnesses her using telekinesis to toss out the garbage. Not just any classmate, but Shinjou Mami, who is obsessed with magic and the occult.

Mami believes she’s made a monumental discovery, but has heard what the ominous “Organization” did to the last person to speak out about it, and so intends to tread carefully. At the end of the day, however, she just comes right out and directly confronts Hina, who does not deny her powers.

Mami quickly befriends Hina and decides to become the disciple to the master, even though Hina’s powers are non-transferrable. Watching Mami try all day to lift a rock on her own, Hina lifts it for her out of a desire to leave the riverbank since it’s getting late.

That only makes things worse for Mami, who believes she lifted the rock (and later rocks), and despite not being able to lift anything when Hina’s not around, she quickly gets full enough of herself to make a big show of her powers in class, which ends in abject failure and humiliation.

Eventually Ikaruga confronts Hina, who is celebrating her leg being healed with a big chocolate parfait, and tells her she has to go home. Hina doesn’t want to, but she’s grown to the point where she knows the value of orders, and will obey them in this case, to Ikaruga’s shock.

That means she has to drop the news to Nitta that she’s leaving, and the novelty tees she wears that say “BYEBYE” and “SAYONARA” don’t do the trick. She levitates and flies around in place until she’s nauseous trying to think of the best way.

After a brace of medical tests comes up, Nitta finally demands she tell him what’s up. He responds by taking her out for one last ikura bowl before driving her to the spot where she’ll meet with Ikaruga. Nitta is honest in his parting words, telling Hina she’s been a royal pain in the ass, but he nevertheless really enjoyed the time they had together.

That puts a rare joyful smile on Hina’s face…but she’s obviously not going anywhere. After all, the “Orb” in which she arrived at Nitta’s apartment—and in which he got stuck and had to stew in his own urine all night—was discarded (with other non-burnable trash) and is now lost and possibly destroyed. No orb, no return home.

Hina’s, and the episode’s, return to the status quo is marked when she reappears at Nitta’s to learn that he is holding a New Year “Without Hina” Party…all by himself. She interrupts the start of his explanation with a grave “NOT COOL.”

Between the sometimes lazy security chief Ikaruga and the would-be disciple Mami, we got two solid new players in this world of complex characters who each command their share of laughs with both their actions and their inner thoughts.

I also enjoyed little moments like when Anzu and Ikaruga muse on what should be done with the dog, or Mami’s mom standing in the hall. While it might well have been interesting for Hina to actually go home, by not doing so the show preserves the mystery of that place and the organization that administrates it.

I don’t mind learning how “powered” girls need the Orbs to travel…but I don’t really need to get too deep into the workings of the other world. I dig the mystique. Plus, there’s plenty to do right here on Earth.

Hinamatsuri – 07 – Take a Deep Breath Here and Hold it

Despite being introduced as the girl from the same “realm” as Hina come to eliminate her, Anzu’s stories since have tugged hardest on the heartstrings due to the circumstances in which she ends up, and this week is no different.

We start off with her learning the ropes of the restaurant owned by the couple who took her in, and she’s constantly saying and doing things that remind them of her destitute recent past, and thus make them tear up.

Those things include her clothes always being too big, 800 yen being a king’s ransom, and using only cold water for her shower. However, her time among the homeless made her a hard worker and a quick study, and by the time her first day is over, she has time to soak in her warm and comfy new home. Dawww.

From the sweetness of Anzu getting acclimated to her new life, we shift to Hina getting chewed out by a teacher for constantly sleeping (guilty as charged), and what do you know, Hina actually uses her powers!

Not to do anything to the teacher, mind you; she merely manipulates her desk neighbor Hitomi into pocking out a pointillist sketch of a knife-wielding oni, which Hitomi would surely get in trouble for if teach saw it!

Hina isn’t just sleeping at school because she’s tired; she’s also bored. Nitta tells her to figure out on her own how to make things more fun. When she hears some somewhat exaggerated claims about how much power a student council president has, Hina mixes it with stuff she saw on TV and announces her candidacy, to the dubiousness of all.

When Hina tells her homeroom teacher “I’ve got this”, he’s never been less convinced, and scoffs at a fellow teacher praising his ambitious kids. The only one who takes Hina seriously is someone who barely knows her; Nitta’s boss, who instructs the company lawyer to draft a proper speech for her.

When that suggestion was first made, I knew it would result in some comedy gold, and readers, I was not disappointed. After ignoring a teacher’s insistance first-years can’t run for president (causing the whole auditorium to note her ignoring him, in unison!) Hina starts out strong, as her speech is a reasonable argument for a competitive bidding process for a new lunch supplier.

Things go off the rails once Hina simply recites even the parts she’s not supposed to read (‘take a deep breath here’) and even the lawyer-speak can’t hide the fact that a school-mandated afternoon nap for middle schoolers is…a bit silly.

Nevertheless, Hina wins secretary, a job for which she’s a no-show for the first few council meetings. When a member pays a visit to her classroom, only Hitomi is there to receive her, and Hitomi being Hitomi, gets roped into yet more work as she inadvertently fills in for Hina and is appointed “stand-in secretary.” Guys…Hitomi’s got a bar to tend!

The third segment finds the middle ground between Anzu’s poignant introduction to homed life and Hina’s comedic presidential campaign, as Nitta once again fails to secure a date with Utako, and Hina urges him to talk about it with her so he’ll feel better (having learned this on TV, of course).

When Hitomi gets word Hina’s “dad” wants to date her boss, she thinks of how hard it must’ve been for Hina losing her mother (whom she envisions also had blue hair, since Nitta doesn’t), and vows to help get Nitta that date in any way she can so Hina can one day have a new mom.

Her efforts don’t go so swell at first, as Hina’s hamfisted act makes it seem as though Nitta put her up to asking Utako on his behalf. Hitomi persists, and Utako relents, agreeing to go on the dang date.

Upon learning Hina got him said date, Nitta picks her up and spins her around the room in elation…until she smacks her foot on the doorway and breaks it. In the hospital room Hina insists Nitta carry on with the date, which he does…but on that date—the audio for which we never hear—he apparently never stops talking about Hina.

Utako takes that, and Hina’s closeness to Nitta, to mean that she’d only come between them if she continued dating them, not at all perceiving the fact that they’d both welcome her as part of the family if things progressed that far (and there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t).

And so Nitta essentially strikes out for being too good a fake dad, and has to resort to using a hand puppet to represent Hina’s new mom, which even Hina isn’t buying!

Hinamatsuri – 06 – All She Remembers is the Chili Shrimp

The moment his mother calls and Hina answers, Nitta has to figure out a way to explain why a 13-year-old girl is living with him, so he crafts an intricate story, the gist of which is that Hina is the orphan of a couple who were killed in a feud.

Hina’s robotic delivery may be unconvincing, but Nitta explains it away by noting that the girl was traumatized by the experience, and all she remembers of it is “the chili shrimp” (though he should have said ikura, since Hina knows what that is).

Nitta eventually comes clean to his mother and his alcoholic kid sister, though he replaces one lie with another: Hina is his daughter. But is it a lie? I mean, obviously not biologically, but in practically every other way, that’s what he is. His fam doesn’t object, and welcome her with enthusiastic open arms.

Watching Nitta knit his web of lies had lots of comedic value, as did Hina’s inept attempts to stick to their story. But the second half of this episode barely makes any effort to be funny. Instead, it goes for straight drama, as new municipal statues mean the homeless people Anzu lives with are going to be kicked out of the park where they live.

While all the old men go their separate ways, Utako (their friend and vocal advocate) has found a husband and wife willing to take Anzu in. Anzu doesn’t want to stop fighting, but this is a battle she can’t win, and the old men are not only resigned to their fate and fully prepared to move on, but are likely relieved this young kid won’t have to live on the streets collecting cans anymore.

Anzu is anything but celebratory. Upon suddenly finding herself in the relative lap of luxury, with delicious food, clean clothes, and a warm bed—none of it costing her anything—all Anzu can do is worry about how she doesn’t deserve any of it, as well as worry about her friends like Yassan who are still out there on the streets.

Anzu thinks this way because she has an enormous heart and a strong moral compass. But she’s being far too hard on herself; no one of her age (or at least the age she appears to be in the form she’s taken in this world) should have to worry about working for food; she should have adults who care for her, as Nitta cares for Hina.

Sure, Hina helps him out occasionally (though certainly not lately), and when Anzu learns he new guardians run a Chinese restaurant, she is eager to help out in any way she can (again, because she’s a super-good person). But one thing she’ll hopefully learn is that her work isn’t an requisite of food, shelter, and care.

Her new guardians just want her to be happy and safe. Still, they tell her the people she’s worried about will always be a part of her, and her a part of them, so she needn’t ever feel alone.

I tellsya, it was a goddamn tearjerker; Anzu’s tears of joy wouldn’t be out of place in 3-gatsu no Lion, while seiyu Murakawa Rie does a marvelous job voicing Anzu. I’m mostly just glad she’s no longer homeless!

Hinamatsuri – 05 – I’m Totally Confused, But This Isn’t Prostitution

We begin with the very stark differences in Hina’s and Anzu’s everyday lives laid bare. Anzu learns cat’s cradle from a fellow homeless person, and is excited to show Hina so they can play together…but Hina only cares about video games.

Anzu has a good heart—perhaps too good for her own good—so rather than tell Hina to take her video games and get stuffed, she implements a scheme whereby she’ll find and sell used TVs she finds off the streets in order to afford video games with which to play with Hina.

Hilarity ensues, as Anzu first learns that CRT TVs are worth less than the dirt they’re sitting on, then learns that Hina and Hitomi are friends. Seeing the futility of searching the riverbank for LCD TVs, Hitomi asks her mom if she can have the one they’re replacing, only to get stopped by a cop for illegal dumping.

Meanwhile Hina makes herself useful (and demonstrates how clueless she is about…pretty much everything) by asking Nitta for cash to buy a new TV, then taking a 5900-yen taxi ride to the guy who buys the TVs…for 3000 yen. Hey, Anzu said she wanted TVs, right?

At the end of the night, Anzu spills the beans about wanting to afford video games to play with Hina (though it may well have fallen on deaf ears) while Nitta ends up very confused when Hina talks about selling the TV she just bought with his money to pay for cab fare. (A particularly standout exchange: Cabbie: “Where to?” Hina: “The river.”)

We then shift back to a Hitomi-centric segment, which is fine with me, as Hitomi is awesome. Two male classmates watch her enter the Little Song bar, and when Matsutani-sensei immediately follows her, they, with their adolescent brains, fear the worst: an illicit sexual relationship.

To that end, the boys start a “Matsutani Illicit Sexual Relationship Suspicion Task Force” made up of the two of them and Hitomi’s friend Aizawa, who thinks they’re full of it but recommends they recruit Hina—who has know idea what’s going on, and whose numerous pleas to know what’s going on go hilarious unanswered for the rest of the episode.

While initially skeptical, Hitomi’s ridiculous (and sometimes adorable) reactions to Aizawa’s probing convince her that something is amiss, but when it looks like she’s just messing with Hitomi to get those reactions, the boys split off (though they all have to take the same single staircase down).

After following Hitomi and Matsutani to the prep room and gaining no new intelligence, the four kids (Hina’s still there, but doesn’t know why) stake out the bar one night, and spot Hitomi entering, followed shortly by Nitta (who they regard as Hina’s dad).

Hitomi’s closest friend, Aizawa, decides to throw caution to the wind and rush into the bar, and the others follow shortly thereafter, where they catch Hitomi red-handed. However, after imagining the absolute worst that could be happening to her, Aizawa and the boys are actually relieved it’s just a matter of her being a middle school bartender.

With that, Aizawa forces Hitomi to repent for keeping them in the dark by declaring she is a middle school bartender, with the spirit of an idol introducing herself, which Hitomi does. This gets her the applause not only of her peers, but of Nitta and Utako as well. Hina, meanwhile, remains just plain confused.

Hinamatsuri – 04 – Unfit to be Homeless

“I’m disowning you.” Those are the three words that suddenly upend Hina’s cushy life at the top, after she upends nearly everything Nitta owns. While decent parents sometimes say things like that in moments when they might be nearing their limits, they never mean it.

Only Nitta doesn’t see himself as her parent, merely a caretaker of heretofore bottomless generosity and patience…and now that Hina has exhausted his supply of those qualities, she’s out.

To the show’s credit, he has a well-established good reason not to feel like her parent—she showed up in a metal egg!—but Nitta eventually learns it doesn’t really matter how bizarrely she entered his life, only that entering it changed that life forever.

Surely a part of Nitta buried by his anger in the moment immediately regretted kicking Hina off, because it knew just how useless she’d be in the real world after the cushy life she’s been used to since arriving.

That uselessness is demonstrated when she immediately spends 10,000 yen on junk food and plays video games until her battery runs out, then latches on to a concerned Anzu, whose limits are quickly tested.

Nitta’s lack of thinking his plan through is also exposed when Hitomi comes to his front door with printouts for Hina. And because Utako is such a good person, she works at a soup run in the park and discovers what Nitta has done. None of the people in the bar who judge Nitta know where she really came from, and that she’s no ordinary defenseless kid who you couldn’t dream of kicking out of your house.

When Nitta tries to defend himself and they run him out of the bar like the one kid all the other kids agreed was Bad News, he gets a harsh lesson in how unimportant details like what Hina is and where she comes from really are. By kicking Hina out, Nitta is a bad guy, at least in the world he wants to keep living in—a world of conscience, selflessness, and kindness.

Kicking her out means Nitta not only has his cushy apartment to himself, but his own world; even Sabu is not having it. Meanwhile, Anzu learns what it’s like to be Nitta, only in accelerated form, as Hina reaches her bike gang-coated friend’s limits and is kicked out after just three days.

Mind you, he’s right that Hina isn’t entirely hopeless. She does befriend some buskers and uses her telekinesis to pep up their show, and is able to make money on her own for the first time. Like the homeless people Anzu befriends, Hina is lucky not to end up with bad people who might to weird things, and even if they tried, she’s be more than capable of fighting them off.

Would Hina have been fine with the band indefinitely? In terms of money and food, perhaps, but where would she stay? And what if she hits the band’s limits like she did Nitta’s and Anzu’s? As Anzu tells Nitta when the two cross paths, Hina simply isn’t fit to be homeless, a devastating line to behold, in no small part due to its blinding accuracy.

But the main reason Hina wouldn’t make it out there is because she doesn’t want to. She liked being with Nitta the most, and so waits outside his door with a newly bought 2900-yen vase and a sincere apology. Nitta, having been banned from Utako’s bar until he makes up with Hina, makes up with Hina.

Yes, it’s a really nice bar, but also Nitta had reached a new limit: he’d gone as far as he could go without Hina, and vice versa, and so the two are back together, and he proudly displays her cheap vase beside the pricey ones, because like HIna, it doesn’t matter where it came from.

Hina’s expulsion from and eventual reinstatement in the good life takes up three-quarters of the episode; the balance is made up of another Hitomi portrait, cementing Hitomi’s role as without doubt the Best and most fascinating character on the show.

While Hina needs to learn the hard way the value of hard work, “half-assed” is not and has never been in Hitomi’s category. She knows she’s good at bartending, and continues to perform that job with pride. Not only can she mix drinks like an adult pro, but she’s now able to dispense advice and say just the words her customers need to hear, whether it’s Nitta’s superior or her own homeroom teacher.

Most importantly, her advice comes from her own experiences, which are numerous despite her modest age. She tells the yakuza boss that a bar is where you can come to be your honest self and not worry about their “real life” outside the door because that’s exactly what she’s doing.

And Hitomi won’t stop doing it, not just because she gets paid, but because she enjoys it, even on the weekends when she works through the night.

It’s in that exhausted state after an all-night shift that Hitomi comes upon Anzu in the alley, and learns that she collects cans. Hitomi, going all out in all things, directs Anzu to a windfall of cans (and gently blackmails a fellow bar employee to gain access to them. She learns fast).

Things get “heavy” in a hurry when Hitomi learns the extent of Anzu’s destitution, and feels bad about even eating the 200-yen ramen she’s offered, especially after learning Anzu usually makes 600 yen a day; the same amount Hina can make in a half-hour.

Suddenly confronted with someone living what appears to be a much tougher life with much smaller rewards weighs heavily on a Hitomi already physically taxed by her dual life. And so, during a protracted game of tag through the forest, Hitomi finally reaches her limit, and falls asleep standing up. If Hina is unfit to be homeless, Hitomi is unfit to be idle…or apathetic.

 

Hinamatsuri – 03 – Shaken AND Stirred

This week three of Hinamatsuri’s young women learn the value, rewards, and pitfalls of hard work from three very different vantage points, starting with Anzu. Anzu is unable to return to her mystery home, so she is homeless. She resorts to petty theft in Utako’s shopping district, but the constant chasing is getting exhausting, and one never knows when she might accidentally cut loose with her powers.

The hobo that once gave up her location to Sabu takes Anzu under his wing and shows her how to make honest money to pay for food. It’s a lot of work for a pittance, and even when she and Yassan show up to the hobo camp with sake to share, the mostly old men there treat her like crap…until she sings them an old nostalgic song that brings many of them to tears.

Anzu is rewarded with a canned drink and membership into the tribe, with all the benefits that entails. But the next day it’s back to the drudgery of searching for stray coins and collecting cans, during which time she runs into Nitta. Seeing her situation and seeing through her half-hearted explanations, Nitta assumes the worst and attempts to solve it with money.

The same stubborn pride that keeps Anzu on the streets also makes her angry at the handout, and she throws the 40,000 yen back in his face. However, when she remembers the hobos talking about how steel and aluminum price drops will cut deeply into their haul, she swallows her pride, chases Nitta’s car down, and accepts his gift.

When she’s immediately surrounded by Usako and the other proprietors she stole from, she loses more than 39,000 of it as repayment, and returns to camp dejected and ashamed. But Yassan assures her it’s for the best: she’s no longer wanted for theft; she has a fresh start as a “homeless girl.” If she keeps working hard as she can (and accepts gifts like Nitta’s when they come), she’ll be able to survive, as they have. Without using her powers.

Next we move on to Mishima Hitomi, who already knows the value of hard work and has applied it to studying, resulting in her position as top student in class, a position she takes great pride in. However, after her impromptu go at bartending last week, Utako wants her to keep working there, and is willing to blackmail her with an incriminating photo to make it happen.

Hitomi counters with a recording of Utako blackmailing her, and Utako takes a different tack, suggesting they both delete their data on each other…but Utako had already downloaded the photo to her PC, so it’s Game, Set, and Match Utako: Hitomi starts working at her bar for 1,500 yen an hour. She is a hit, not because she’s a middle schooler, but because she’s just too damn good at mixing drinks.

Just as at school, she works hard, takes no shortcuts, and comes to take great pride in her good work at the bar. But her two world collide when her homeroom teacher comes into the bar with the vice principal (who is already drunk), trying to nab the position of head teacher.

The teacher is not drunk, and quickly recognizes Hitomi, but decides its in both their best interests to keep the secret to himself. But he still doesn’t let Hitomi off the hook: as something of a mixology aficionado, he challenges Hitomi to make him a Million Dollar, and then a Bartender, to test her shaking and stirring skills. Hitomi passes with flying colors, and he’s duly impressed in her skills, as Usako and the other patrons knew he would be.

While a misunderstanding and her own passivity got her into the job to start, and she was blackmailed into continuing it, her natural talent for the job keeps her coming back…and the mad stacks she’s depositing into the bank account her parents don’t know about don’t hurt one bit! Not only that you watch Hitomi work behind the bar, you can tell she’s in her happy place.

Anzu expanded her world by transitioning from theft to a modest but honest living, while Hitomi expanded hers by adding paid labor to a repertoire that had once been unpaid study, though that will pay off when she needs to get in a good high school and college. And because she’s making so much bank, she needn’t worry about burdening her folks with tuition.

That brings us to the young woman at the top of the social ladder, simply by having her egg land in a rich yakuza’s apartment and that yakuza having a heart of gold…in other words, privilege and luck. Though she may have helped Nitta out off-camera, since the first episode she hasn’t really worked. Having seen Anzu surviving on the streets, Nitta wonders out loud why Hina couldn’t try to do the same thing (is he half-joking? quarter-joking?)

Hina gets the message, and after a frightening dream in which she’s filthy and destitute on the street while Nitta walks past with a glamorous Anzu on his arm, Hina adopts a more genial and eager-to-please attitude that understandably throws him off. When he goes off to work late, she attempts to work hard so he won’t throw her out.

But unlike Anzu and Hitomi, Hina’s hard work ends up working against her goals, not towards them, while her attempt to expand her skills through various household chores ends in one huge mess after another. Her comedy of errors, while predictable, is nonetheless cleverly depicted. I especially liked her attempt to air out a blanket, only for it to fly away into the Tokyo cityscape like a  magic carpet.

Worse, when things get messy, Hina simply gives up and moves on to the next chore, and when she finds a bowl of ikura in the fridge marked “rewards for Hina” she unilaterally decides she’s worked hard enough to give herself the reward.

Fittingly, as Nitta tells his associates, it’s been so long since Hina has done anything to earn a reward, the ikura in the fridge has gone bad, something Hina’s stomach suddenly realizes while she has every dish in the house levitating and dripping soapy water all over the hardwood floors. The dishes shatter, she goes down, and Nitta, who was impressed by how nice she was being before he left, is poised for a rude surprise.

Basically, Hina could learn a lot from Anzu and Hitomi about the importance of being competent at the hard work you are attempting. She did it before with the forestry (and the raid of Nitta’s rivals); she can do it again. She just needs more practice! Ultimately, everyone, even Hina, wants to feel needed, and to strike a proper balance between taking and giving.

Hinamatsuri – 02 – Savin’ the Nation, then Hittin’ the Clubs

When another telekinetic middle school-aged girl suddenly appears naked in the street at night, then promptly dispatches the entire bike gang whose path she barred, it occurred to me we could get a new super-powered egg brat every week. It also occurred to me that might be too many brats, but this episode would come to allay my fears.

This latest one, Anzu, is not only a problem because she didn’t materialize in the apartment of one a mild-mannered and reasonable yakuza, but because she is on a specific mission to find and eliminate Hina.

All Anzu says its that it’s “orders from the brass”, but the less we know about where Hina and Anzu come from, the better, I say. The whys and wherefores aren’t necessary; just the fact that they’re here, and Nitta has to deal with it in a responsible way.

Nitta first hears about a little girl taking out the bike gang from his subordinate Sabu, but it isn’t long before she’s at the same ramen shop trying to dine and dash. Nitta pays for her, again placing the responsibility for an extremely powerful and dangerous being on his admittedly broad shoulders.

Nitta realizes that by treating the arrival of Hina the way he has, he may well have saved the nation, a fact he casually remarks to Sabu (who can’t possibly know what he’s talking about). He doesn’t shrink from his duty to save it again, this time from a potentially cataclysmic battle between two unchecked adolescent espers.

Once he gets a tip about Anzu’s position from Sabu via the network of homeless they pay to keep their eyes and ears open, he brings Anzu and Hina together, but gets Anzu to agree to a game of “look-that-way” rock-paper-scissors, with the two using their powers to try to make the other look in a certain direction.

Not only does the execution of this plan eliminate the threat of cataclysm, it also results in some seriously hilarious faces from Hina and Anzu as they try to force-pull each others faces up, down, and to the side.

Ultimately, Hina defeats a frustrated Anzu with ease, but when Anzu realizes how much Hina has changed since they last met (she talks and everything!), she decides it’s enough to take a lock of her hair and tell the bosses that the deed is done.

Hina, in turn, invites Anzu to hang out a bit before she returns home (wherever that is; I don’t want to know). After some video games, dinner, and a load of laundry, Hina and Nitta send Anzu on her way…only for her red ball teleporter thingy to not function because it was in the wash, leaving Anzu stranded and homeless (again). Maybe this time gangs will keep a wider berth.

While this leaves open the possibility Hina and Anzu will cross paths again, and I wouldn’t mind such crossings, she doesn’t wear out her welcome here, and isn’t present in the episode’s second half, in which Nitta realizes that ever since he took in Hina, he’s been off his Game.

His bartender/occasional date Utako thinks he’s joking when he asks her out with Hina sitting nearby; his usual girls at the girly club have heard rumors he’s put his Don Juaning on hold in order to lavish time, love, attention and money on his “daughter.” Nitta is appalled. He’s got to get his game back.

He does so in a less-than-subtle way, essentially ripping the time-consuming Hina off like a band-aid, leaving her alone in the apartment with a cold can of mackerel while he hits the bar or club or goes out on dates. Hina finds the mackerel novel and tasty at first, but soon it gets old and tedious, and she doesn’t like the loneliness.

Hina decides to take matters into her own hands, first by insisting she get to go out with him (resulting in a hilarious chase in which she’s waiting for him on the subway at the end, and he lets the doors close without getting in) to enlisting the aid of her too-nice-for-her-own-good classmate Hitomi. Hina learned from TV it’s better to use more than one person to follow someone, but she promptly ditches Hitomi at Utako’s bar, which is closed.

There’s a distinct feeling of not belonging in such an adult place, yet when one of the regular lushes lumbers in to tie one on, he’s no so much confused as delighted that the new barkeep is so young. He doesn’t even mind she doesn’t know how to make a highball; he’ll teach her.

And thus Hitomi, who as I said is way too nice to turn down an old drunk man’s offer to teach her how to make cocktails for him, ends up tending bar all night. When Nitta finally shows up, she’s relieved, but when she calls him Hina’s “dad” he gets upset and becomes another customer (rather than rescuing her).

Meanwhile, Utako ends up crossing paths with Hina, and tells her Nitta won’t understand what she wants unless she tells him straight up. It’s a great little playground scene that’s made more “Hinamatsuri-ish” by the fact Hina levitates off the swing and does a few lazy flips in the air while Utako is dispensing advice.

By the time Utako and Hina get to the bar, Hitomi has, just, like, become a bartender. I didn’t think I’d ever come across an anime not only in which a middle schooler is ditched in a closed bar, but accidentally becomes a thoroughly competent bartender over the course of an evening, without even particularly wanting to! It is ludicrous and amazing.

And there, to a somewhat sloshed Nitta, Hina tells him straight-up what she wants: to go to a girly club with him. In’s an odd request, but Nitta gives in to the booze-lubricated mood of the room and agrees.

But rather than just Nitta and Hina, everyone comes along: Utako closes the bar and comes, the regular drunk comes, a comple random salarymen come…and Hitomi comes too. The increasingly drunk Nitta even lets Hina levitate a bottle of champagne over a tower of glasses (even though such a service has to be specially ordered).

Finally, Hitomi gets a call from her worried-sick mother, who doesn’t believe her for a second when she tells the truth about where she is so late at night. The question Hitomi wants answered is why is she there. I can think of two main reasons: Hina, and passivity.

In the morning Nitta wakes up on the couch, in his boxers, with a hangover, an invoice for 2.5 million yen ($23,000) and a Hina eager to go out that night and do it all over again. Nitta pumps the brakes; from that day until further notice it will be a frugal household. Break out the mackerel!

Hinamatsuri – 01 – Not Your Average Brat (First Impressions)

Nitta Yoshifumi is your typical low-to-mid-level yakuza, doing pretty well for himself without getting his hands bloody, preferring the art hustle to less civilized ventures. He has a fine condo with fine furniture, fine objets d’art, and fine wine.

Then quite suddenly (as these things tend to happen), a strange metal egg with a face falls from above. Nitta decides to pretend its not there and go to bed. But of course, it’s still there in the morning, and he presses the red button as the face instructs to reveal Hina, a blue-haired brat with telekinetic powers.

Nitta…goes with it. I mean, Hina doesn’t give him much choice, wordlessly threatening to destroy all the fine things he owns unless he acquiesces to her demands, which range from “clothes” of any kind to cover her up, to over eight thousand dollars worth of merch at the mall.

Hina isn’t the expressive sort, but lots of TV-watching gives her a vocabulary Nitta can immediately identify when she uses it. He finds himself feeling like a caregiver all of a sudden, rather than somebody only in this life for himself and his organization.

When Hina decides she’s going to school, Nitta gets her to promise not to use her powers, lest chaos ensue. As Hina makes a fine first impression by forgetting her assumed last name, then sleeps through every class, Nitta wrings his hands at a meeting with his fellow yakuza, worried about how she’s doing—and they misinterpret his intensity for being gung-ho about taking on a rival group.

Well, chaos ensues anyway, because she neglects to tell him that if she doesn’t use her powers for too long, the power builds up and explodes, trashing his whole place. I loved the suddenness with which this escalated.

Since she has to use her powers anyway, Nitta tries to find a practical use for them, and finds one in a forest-clearing job for a shady developer. Uprooting mature trees, cleanly stripping their branches, foliage, and bark, and filling the holes in the ground is child’s play to Hina, who privately wonders why this Nitta guy is being so nice and not ordering her to kill people.

Nitta makes a killing on the tree job, but gets no congratulations from the Chief, because in his absence the Boss got shot, requiring their group to respond in kind. Nitta doesn’t even think of taking Hina with him, but resolves to take care of it himself, despite lacking any credible bona fides in the violence department.

Hina tags along (and scares the shit out of Nitta in the car) of her own volition, asking him why he won’t give her orders to kill the men in the building. Nitta’s all-too-decent response is a revelation to Hina: “Why should you have to do that? This has nothing to do with you!” Touched that he cares for her, she smirks and decides to take care of business without orders.

Hina is as efficient at clearing out the rival groups’ hideout and serving up their boss as she was clearing the forest, and we listen along with Nitta to the screams and grunts of the building’s occupants as she goes floor-to-floor, tossing every peron and piece of furniture out into the street (though notably never hitting Nitta with anything).

Everybody wins: Nitta is promoted for his excellent work (he neglects to mention his “brat” did it all; not that he wants it known she has powers), and Hina gets to exercise her telekinetic valves. Nitta generously rewards her (another concept unfamiliar to Hina from her previous life) with the finest kind of her so-far favorite food (red caviar), and the two settle into a mutually beneficial situation.

Post-credits, Nitta accidentally locks himself in the metal egg Hina arrived in, and Hina exacts a bit of revenge by leaving him in there all night, only releasing him in the morning after he’d wet himself (the moment of his release is played exactly like Ahnold’s arrival in Terminator, only with a cloud of piss.)

Hinamatsuri is a ton of fun. It’s also an absolute hoot. I was snickering or laughing for virtually the entire run time, as Nitta’s reactions to Hina’s deadpan remarks were constantly entertaining, as was the physical comedy of the telekinetic hi-jinx. There were too many hilarious lines to list.

The show has a marvelous sense of comedic timing in both dialogue and editing, but the comedy never overshadows what is, at its heart, a warm and sincere story of a man who suddenly has someone to care about, and a former human weapon who suddenly has the freedom to be a normal girl, even if she occasionally has to literally blow off some steam. I’m on board!

Takunomi. – 12 (Fin) – Makoto Super Dry

Michiru wakes up to strange sounds an fears a burglary, but it’s just Makoto, up late and binge-eating over the stress of her job hunt. She’s perhaps a bit too worried about how she’ll come off to elders.

Michiru recommends she have drinks with alumni from her school, and Nao recommends the designated beer for business events: Asahi Super Dry, once an upstart, now Japan’s #1-Selling Beer—as well as one of my personal favorites.

Makoto’s housemates give her a “Super Dry run” by role-playing as pantsuit-donning salarypeople, and hilarity ensues.

They go through all of the subtle rules of etiquette, from the proper place to sit, pour, and hold the bottle and glass, to the very obvious rule of not getting too drunk and rowdy. Since Asahi was developed as a beer to go perfectly with sashimi, they tuck into some delectable dead fish as well.

By the end, Makoto’s confidence is built up, and she proceeds to have a very fun alumni night. Unfortunately, she was so focused on making a good impression with her perfect beer etiquette (which she did), she forgot what any of them said about job hunting.

No matter; by sticking to her core concept, like Asahi Super Dry, Makoto will be just fine, and join Michiru, Nao, and Kae in the ranks of the working public. Takunomi was a fun little show that reminded me that all of the answers in life can be provided by good food, good spirits, and good friends to share them with.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 12 (Fin) – A Gentle Nudge Past the Status Quo

The last episode of KJT starts with a long shot of Takagi looking over at Nishikata without trying to look like she’s looking. It’s the first time we’ve seen her since Nishikata unwittingly made her heart go dokidoki, and when we hear that the girls in class are on a letter-writing kick, it’s natural to assume Takagi would join in.

When Nishikata finds a love letter in his textbook, he does everything he can to keep that information from Takagi…right up until she tells him she put it there, she wants him to read it before school ends, because she wants his “answer” by then.

When Nishikata discovers the “love” letter is really just a written request to walk home together like they always do, Takagi gets the reaction she wanted. But in a way, it was a love letter, albeit a coded one: Nishikata’s reactions provide her nearly as much info as direct words.

Her ability to read him like a large-print book goes back to when they first met and spoke, back on their very first day of school. Nishikata is late, but not because he overslept. Takagi senses he wants to set the record straight, and her first words to her new desk neighbor are “you didn’t really oversleep, right?”

Later, Takagi is the one who’s late, giving Nishikata cover, but also sets up her first guessing game with Nishikata, correctly guessing he was late because he found her handkerchief and brought it to the staff room.

Nishikata (unaware that she was “Takagi-san” until just then) reacts in the over-the-top flustered manner we’re used to by now—only it’s the first time Takagi is watching it. From that day onward, she was hooked.

Back in the present, Nishikata receives bad news: there’s to be a seat rearrangement. Nishikata pretends it doesn’t bother him, but Takagi doesn’t hide her dispiritedness, which in turn makes Nishikata dispirited. The status quo is at stake!

Nishikata ends up joining someone else despondent over the rearrangement: Mano-chan, who was perfectly content next to her boyfriend Nakai-kun, and whose life is now essentially over. Then Nishikata loses his one chance to switch seats with Kimura-kun, and sinks into his new desk of despair beside Mano-chan.

Thankfully, things didn’t end there: through a number of seat switches, Mano and Nakai end up up front together, while Takagi returns to Nishikata’s side. Nishikata can barely hide his relief.

Then she asks what he wanted to say earlier, and he produces her handkerchief, which she used to bandage his knee a while back, and which also brought them together on the first day of school. Nishikata expresses his gratitude he was able to return it, and that they’re next to each other again; the feeling is mutual. For once, he says what he feels without worrying about being teased.

That night, while inspecting her hankie, a little note slips out, and suddenly Takagi is in the same position Nishikata is when he found the love letter in his book. It’s no confession, just a simple “Thank you”…but it’s another critical hit on Takagi, who plops onto the bed and buries her head in her pillow, giddy with delight.

It would be an understatement to say I’ll miss Takagi and Nishikata. Could I watch the duo grow closer and closer together as they enter high school, college, and eventually adulthood? You BETCHA. But since that’s sadly unlikely to happen, I have to be satisfied with the snippet of their lives that we got. And I am, very much so!